None of her children have shown up for her birthday and Soraya sits at the window, watching the empty driveway, upright in the walnut wood chair that her father had ordered from the most expensive retailer in Lahore for her wedding, what was it fifty years ago, and ignores the hard-boiled egg and the orange and the glass of pomegranate juice on the tray in front of her, same tray on which she had carried soup and water to her mother she can’t even remember how long ago, feeling the burn from the heater on her small feet resting on the marble floor, and reaches for the single lovebird in the cage beside her—the silver coop with a blue bird her husband had given her on their twentieth anniversary with that sparkle in his eyes and a happy anniversary, darling even though it was the same year she had lost her mother and happy was the farthest thing from her mind but he had been feeling guilty, turned out, about his new, secret wife, and his affections had become louder and more elaborate until all three of her kids had started saying they wanted a love like their parents’ and wasn’t she so lucky and her heart had fluttered at the sight of the delicate bird feet trembling on the perch and she had believed she was lucky too, but the bird had died that December and soon after her father was gone and then her marriage followed when the letter from her husband’s new wife arrived which, even now, is pressed into an old copy of Sense and Sensibility on the bookshelf behind her, buried between her teaching notes, and which she had kept after all the deaths so every time she stood in front of the classroom of eager girls, the pages reminded her not to forgive her husband and to restrain the silly chirrups of teenage hearts by telling them everything died at its most beautiful, that they must believe only the words that slice the heart (truth was never meant to be kind) and which she glances at now, seeking that little blue edge that sticks out from between the pages as she holds the bird’s neck gently between her knuckles and rubs her thumb against the red patch on its head nearly as soft as the hair on her daughters’ heads when they were little, before they had layered on hair color and rebellion and shaved and cut and changed entirely how they looked in an effort, she feels still, to rid themselves of her, and she had been left with her son who was the only one who had remained loyal—that sweet thing, sitting quietly by her bed day after day after her husband moved out—and who, though he comes to see her less and less, pays for her to live now and had wanted to give her his pocket money then thinking it was the bird dying that had made her cry and cry and wrap her blankets around her as if she was building herself a cocoon, and who is across the city somewhere with a woman he has come to love more; he was meant to sit in the other chair beside her today, looking out the window with her as she told him about all the dreams she had when she was a child, how she had wanted to train the birds to deliver letters when she was young, how she wished her mother had warned her about endings, how she had given up the habit of looking forward and abandoned her yearly walk to the kitchen to hang the Scenes of Northern Pakistan calendar the maid and the cook so seemed to like and could he find a new one for them, and slowly her knuckles squeeze the small neck between them and with her other hand she holds the wings flapping strong and getting stronger—she knows they will be the strongest right before the end—until the claws scratching at her lap start to fail and she tells herself this is just how life goes, Soraya, this is just how it is and stares out the window. It is Tuesday, no Wednesday. Perhaps even Thursday. Tomorrow she will break off another small piece of gold from her wedding bracelets and ask the girl who brings her food to her to go to the market and buy another bird.
Hananah Zaheer’s recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Agni, Virginia Quarterly Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, South West Review, Alaska Quarterly Review and Michigan Quarterly Review. Her chapbook Lovebirds is forthcoming with Bull City press in 2021. Currently, she lives in Manila, Philippines and is working on a novel.